We should always be learning something new

Image Credit: https://flic.kr/p/bUgXoP

Last week I started auditing a class on Hapkido, which is a Korean martial art. A friend asked if I’d be interested in attending the once-a-week class with him and I said I would. Having never done any martial art at any time in my life (I don’t even think I’ve watched any of the Karate Kid movies in their entirety), I was nervous. However, partway through the class I realized that there is clear value in learning something completely new.

I want to list a few feelings I had, as I think they reminded me of what it’s like to be a learner, as an adult or a teenager.

  • I didn’t want to make any mistakes. When the instructor demonstrated something, I wanted to do it perfectly. This notion is ridiculous because, as the instructor also pointed out, it takes thousands of repetitions before something becomes muscle memory. For as much as I preach the importance of mistakes in learning, I was shocked at how somewhere in my guts I still didn’t want to make them.

  • I didn’t want the instructor to come by me. Or at least if he did I wanted to be working on my right side (which I thought I was better at). I was afraid he’d find something I was doing wrong. Which I consciously knew would not be bad as it would get corrected and then I’d improve.

  • I compared myself to the people around me, unconsciously ranking myself. Better than that person, worse than those two, etc.

  • Frustration. I’ve never been particularly coordinated and I was consistently frustrated at knowing in my mind what I wanted my body to do, but struggling to make my body do it.

I walked off the mat at the end of class and my mind was reeling.


“Now I know why students are apprehensive to ask questions.”

“Now I understand better why a student might get uncomfortable while I hover over them watching them work out a problem.”

“I have to constantly remind myself to embrace the difficulty. That’s where growth comes from, but it’s difficult to do in practice.”

“Having an instructor that recognized we were all learning was incredibly helpful. He created an atmosphere where mistakes were not viewed as setbacks, but part of the process.”


My main takeaway was that these are feelings I need to constantly grapple with. I need to try to put myself in situations in which I’m the learner, with relative frequency. It helps me better understand where my students are coming from and I think will ultimately help me become a better teacher.

Also, here’s one more thought that has popped in my head recently and probably doesn’t need an entire blog post, but fits with the theme in this one. I’m in my fifth year teaching precalculus, AP calculus, and algebra II and I can feel myself having less empathy with my students, with people learning the concepts for the first time. The first year I taught these courses I think I had a better understanding of their struggles as I was solidifying my understanding of the concepts prior to teaching them as well. I’m not entirely sure what this means for my teaching now, but I think awareness of it is important.

6 Comments

  • Terry Reply

    All teachers and administrators need to be in a position to learn new skills and information in a “classroom ” setting occasionally to understand the sensation of academic struggle.

  • Terry Reply

    All teachers and administrators need to be in a position to learn new skills and information in a “classroom ” setting occasionally to understand the sensation of academic struggle.

  • Ben Reply

    I find that my empathy for my students is somewhat a reflection of the empathy granted by my administration. I am in year eight at my current job. On the fifth principal and the fourth superintendent. My first few years I felt the freedom to experiment with different procedures, pedagogical procedures, disciplines, well, everything honestly. The last few, not so much. Here’s a quick sports analogy.

    If I was a coaching a basketbally team I was judged by how many points my team scored, whether that was with three pointers, dunks, half-court D, or a full-court press. Now I feel like I am judged by whether or not I have performed the correct shuffling drill in practice.

    Needless to say as the tone of my evaluations have changed I have found myself much less sympathetic to my students.

    • Zach Cresswell Reply

      Wow. That is a rough way to teach. It’s unfortunate that you have to work under those kind of conditions. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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